Cold remedies: what works, what doesn’t, what doesn’t hurt

Cold remedies: what works, what doesn’t, what doesn’t hurt

There is no cure for colds. But what about cold remedies that claim to make you feel faster? Find out what works and what doesn’t.

Mayo Clinic Staff

Cold remedies are about as common as common colds, but are they effective? You can’t cure a cold. However, some treatments may help relieve your symptoms and prevent you from feeling so miserable. Here, let’s take a look at some common cold remedies and what is known about them.

Cold medicine that works

If you catch a cold, you can expect to get sick for a week or two. That doesn’t mean you have to be miserable. These treatments may help you feel better:

  • Keep hydrating. Water, juice, clear soup, or warm lemon water with honey will relieve congestion and prevent dehydration. Avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated soda, which can exacerbate dehydration.
  • remaining. Your body needs to rest to heal.
  • Relieves sore throat. Brine gargling (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt dissolved in 8 ounces of warm water) can temporarily relieve sore throats and scratches. Children under the age of 6 may not be able to gargle properly.

    You can also try ice chips, sore throat sprays, troches, and hard candies. Be careful when giving troches or candy to your child as they may choke. Do not give troches or candy to children under 6 years old.

  • Overcome suffocation. Over-the-counter saline nasal drops and sprays can help relieve stuffiness and stuffy nose.

    For babies, experts recommend putting a few drops of saline in one nostril and gently aspirating the nostril with a bulb syringe. To do this, squeeze the bulb, gently place the tip of the syringe in the nostril about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (about 6-12 mm), and slowly release the bulb. Saline nasal drops can be used for older children.

  • Relieves pain. Only acetaminophen should be given to children under 6 months. Give either acetaminophen or ibuprofen to children over 6 months. Talk to your child’s doctor about the correct dosage for your child’s age and weight.

    Adults can take acetaminophen (Tylenol, etc.), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, etc.), or aspirin.

    Be careful when giving aspirin to children and teenagers. Aspirin is approved for use in children ages 3 and older, but children and teens who are recovering from symptoms such as chickenpox or the flu should not take aspirin. This is because aspirin is associated with Reye’s syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition in such children.

  • Drink warm liquid. Cold remedies used in many cultures that consume warm liquids such as chicken soup, tea, and hot apple juice can help calm and relieve congestion by increasing mucus flow.
  • Try honey. Honey can help adults and children over the age of 1 cough. Try it with hot tea.
  • Adds moisture to the air. A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can add moisture to your home and can help reduce congestion. Change the water daily and clean the unit according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Try over-the-counter (OTC) cold and cough medicines. For adults and children over 5 years old OTC Decongestants, antihistamines, and painkillers may relieve symptoms. However, it cannot prevent or shorten the duration of a cold, and in most cases it has some side effects.

    Experts agree that these should not be given to younger children. Abuse or misuse of these drugs can cause serious damage. Talk to your child’s doctor before taking any medication.

    Take the medicine only as directed. Some cold remedies contain multiple ingredients, such as decongestants and painkillers, so read the label of the cold remedy you are taking to make sure you are not taking too much.

Cold medicine that doesn’t work

The list of ineffective cold remedies is long. Some common things that don’t work are:

  • Antibiotics. They attack bacteria, but they are not useful against cold viruses. Avoid asking your doctor for cold antibiotics or using old antibiotics that you have at hand. You can’t get better any faster, and improper use of antibiotics contributes to the serious and growing problem of antibiotic-resistant strains.
  • Over-the-counter cold and cough medicines for young children. OTC Cold and cough medicines can cause serious and even life-threatening side effects in children. Talk to your child’s doctor before taking any medication.

Cold remedies with conflicting evidence

Despite ongoing research, scientific juries are still considering some popular cold remedies such as vitamin C and echinacea. Here’s the latest information on some common alternative remedies:

  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C intake usually does not seem to help the average person prevent a cold.

    However, some studies have shown that taking vitamin C before the onset of cold symptoms can shorten the onset of symptoms. Vitamin C can benefit people at high risk of the common cold due to frequent exposure. For example, children who participate in group childcare during the winter.

  • Echinacea. Research results on whether Echinacea prevents or shortens colds are mixed. Some studies have shown no benefit. Others, when taken in the early stages of a cold, show some reduction in the severity and duration of cold symptoms. Different types of echinacea used in different studies may contribute to different results.

    Echinacea should be taken when you notice symptoms of a cold and may be most effective if you continue for 7 to 10 days. It seems safe for healthy adults, but it can interact with many drugs. Check with your doctor before taking Echinacea or other supplements.

  • zinc. Some studies suggest that zinc supplements may reduce the length of colds. However, research has shown different results for zinc and colds.

    Some studies have shown that zinc lozenges or syrups reduce the length of a cold by about a day, especially if taken within 24-48 hours of the first signs and symptoms of the cold.

    Zinc also has potentially harmful side effects. Talk to your doctor before considering the use of zinc to prevent or reduce the length of a cold.

take care of yourself

Usually minor, a cold can make you feel miserable. You’ll want to try the latest treatments, but the best you can do is take care of yourself. Take a break, drink water and moisten the surrounding air. Don’t forget to wash your hands often.


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